Oklahoma special-needs scholarship law has ironic consequence
A law providing scholarships to students with special needs is not only aiding those children, but also benefiting local public schools.
The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act allows the use of state funds (already designated for a child's education) to pay for tuition at a private school catering to those with special needs. The law is credited for much of a 30 percent enrollment surge at Town & Country School in Tulsa, which serves children with learning differences.
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As a result, Town & Country had to purchase a new building and paid Tulsa Public Schools $1.5 million for a site no longer used by the district. That's ironic, because the Tulsa district has opposed special-needs scholarships and even refused to process applications at one point, before reversing course. Now the district is reaping the rewards of a program it fought.
Earlier this year, Tulsa school officials said private donations of $1.2 million and $620,000 saved a combined 45 teaching positions. Now, thanks in part to the scholarship law, the Tulsa district has received another $1.5 million for a building it no longer needed with few potential buyers. This money will benefit Tulsa Public School students just as much as private donations.
The scholarships simply refocus resources on children rather than institutions. Based on current estimates, the total shift from Tulsa Public Schools to children with special needs has been around $425,000 since the 2010-11 school year. Tulsa's opposition to the scholarship law could have indirectly cost the district $1.5 million to “save” less than $425,000.
The critics were wrong. Rather than harming public education, the scholarship law is expanding opportunity for children who need help the most, and its ripple effect is boosting funds for Tulsa public school students.
This is a win-win scenario that's a cause for celebration, not for litigation.
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